Jute is one of the cheapest natural fibres and is second only to cotton in amount produced and variety of uses. Jute fibres are composed primarily of the plant materials cellulose (major component of plant fibre) and lignin (major components wood fibre). It is thus a ligno-cellulosic fibre that is partially a textile fibre and partially wood. It falls into the bast fibre category (fibre collected from bast or skin of the plant) along with kenaf, industrial hemp, flax (linen), ramie, etc. The industrial term for jute fibre is raw jute. The fibres are off-white to brown, and 1–4 meters (3–12 feet) long.
Jute fibre is often called hessian; jute fabrics are also called hessian cloth and jute sacks are called gunny bags in some European countries. The fabric made from jute is popularly known as burlap in North America.
Jute needs a plain alluvial soil and standing water. The suitable climate for growing jute (warm and wet climate) is offered by the monsoon climate during the monsoon season. Temperatures ranging 20˚ C to 40˚ C and relative humidity of 70%–80% are favourable for successful cultivation. Jute requries 5–8 cm of rainfall weekly with extra needed during the sowing period.
In several historical documents (especially, Ain-e-Akbari by Abul Fazal in 1590) during the era of Mughal Emperor Akbar (1542–1605) states that the poor villagers of India used to wear clothes made of jute. Simple handlooms and hand spinning wheels were used by the weavers, who used to spin cotton yarns as well. History also states that Indians, especially Bengalis, used ropes and twines made of white jute from ancient times for household and other uses.
Tossa jute fibre is softer, silkier, and stronger than white jute. This variety astonishingly showed good sustainability in the climate of the Ganges Delta. Along with white jute, tossa jute has also been cultivated in the soil of Bengal from the start of the 19th century. Currently, the Bengal region (West Bengal, India, and Bangladesh) is the largest global producer of the tossa jute variety.
For centuries, jute has been an integral part of Bengali culture, which is shared by both Bangladesh and West Bengal of India. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, much of the raw jute fibre of Bengal were exported to the United Kingdom, where it was then processed in mills concentrated in Dundee ("jute weaver" was a recognised trade occupation in the 1901 UK census), but this trade had largely ceased by about 1970 due to the entrance of synthetic fibres.
Margaret Donnelly I was a jute mill landowner in Dundee in the 1800s. She set up the first jute mills in India. In the 1950s and 1960s when nylon and polythene were rarely used, the United Pakistan (then the world leader in jute products) was earning money through jute of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. It was called the "Golden Fibre of Bangladesh", when it used to bring major portion of the foreign currency reserve for Bangladesh. But, as the use of polythene and other synthetic materials as a substitute for jute started to capture the market, most economists said that jute industry is experiencing a decline.
For several years, farmers in Bangladesh burnt their crops as they did not get an adequate price. Many exporters that were dealing with jute found other commodities in which to deal. The jute-related organisations and government bodies also experienced closures, change, and fund cutting. The long decline in demand forced the largest jute mill in the world (Adamjee Jute Mills) to close. Latif Bawany Jute Mills, the second largest, is still running but was nationalized by the government from prominent businessman, Yahya Bawany. But the farmers of Bangladesh surprisingly did not stop growing jute, mainly due to demand in the internal market. Recently (2004–2008), the jute market turned back again and the price of raw jute increased more than 100% due to high demand of jute products worldwide.
During 1941, Henry Ford tested the strength of a car trunk made from soybean fibre. The trunk was made of soy-protein plastic reinforced with glass, which was stronger, lighter, and more flexible than conventional car panels. This experiment revolutionised the use of natural fibres in the automobile industry and made cars lighter, which in turn made them more fuel efficient. The previously used glass fibre proved to be very heavy and emitted poisonous gas when burnt. Therefore, most people died of poisonous gas inhalation, not by wounds during car accidents. This fact has driven the European Union to ban the use of glass fibre in automobiles. When Henry Ford's experiment gained huge response, the automobile companies started to search for other bast fibres, as soybean fibre had problems in moulding. They found that flax was the best bast fibre for the automobile interior production.
It has been shown that flax, jute, and hemp fibres contain characteristics such as ductile structure and stiffness per unit of weight that result in benefits during side impacts. But, jute was recognised as the next to the best at a quite late time. In some cases, jute has become the better option over flax in producing car interiors. Moreover, jute proved to be the most cost effective fibre in this sector, as jute is the cheapest vegetable fibre with very high tensile strength. However, there are contrasting information regarding this history.
Other uses for natural fibres now includes composite production of sheet moulding compound, resin transfer moulding, and vacuum pressing techniques and injection.
Jute has entered various diversified sectors, where natural fibres are gradually becoming better substitution. Among these industries are paper, celluloid products (films), non-woven textiles, composites (pseudo-wood), and geotextiles.
| Top Ten Jute and |
Jute-like Fibers Producers — 2006
(thousand metric tonne)
UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Jute is one of the strongest natural fibers. The long staple fiber has high tensile strength and low extensibility. Its luster determines quality; the more it shines, the better the quality. It also has some heat and fire resistance. The biodegradable features of jute are becoming increasingly important.
Jute is a rain-fed crop with little need for fertilizer or pesticides. The production is concentrated in India and Bangladesh. The jute fibre comes from the stem and ribbon (outer skin) of the jute plant. The fibres are first extracted by retting. The retting process consists of bundling jute stems together and immersing them in low, running water. There are two types of retting: stem and ribbon. After the retting process, stripping begins. Women and children usually do this job. In the stripping process, non-fibrous matter is scraped off, then the workers dig in and grab the fibres from within the jute stem.
Jute is the second most important vegetable fibre after cotton; not only for cultivation, but also for various uses. Jute is used chiefly to make cloth for wrapping bales of raw cotton, and to make sacks and coarse cloth. The fibres are also woven into curtains, chair coverings, carpets, area rugs, hessian cloth, and backing for linoleum.
While jute is being replaced by synthetic materials in many of these uses, some uses take advantage of jute's biodegradable nature, where synthetics would be unsuitable. Examples of such uses include containers for planting young trees which can be planted directly with the container without disturbing the roots, and land restoration where jute cloth prevents erosion occurring while natural vegetation becomes established.
The fibres are used alone or blended with other types of fibres to make twine and rope. Jute butts, the coarse ends of the plants, are used to make inexpensive cloth. Conversely, very fine threads of jute can be separated out and made into imitation silk. As jute fibres are also being used to make pulp and paper, and with increasing concern over forest destruction for the wood pulp used to make most paper, the importance of jute for this purpose may increase. Jute has a long history of use in the sackings, carpets, wrapping fabrics (cotton bale), and construction fabric manufacturing industry.
Traditionally jute was used in traditional textile machineries as textile fibres having cellulose (vegetable fibre content) and lignin (wood fibre content). But, the major breakthrough came when the automobile, pulp and paper, and the furniture and bedding industries started to use jute and its allied fibres with their non-woven and composite technology to manufacture nonwovens, technical textiles, and composites. Therefore, jute has changed its textile fibre outlook and steadily heading towards its newer identity, i.e. wood fibre. As a textile fibre, jute has reached its peak from where there is no hope of progress, but as a wood fibre jute has many promising features.
Jute can be used to create a number of fabrics such as Hessian cloth, sacking, scrim, carpet backing cloth (CBC), and canvas. Hessian, lighter than sacking, is used for bags, wrappers, wall-coverings, upholstery, and home furnishings. Sacking, a fabric made of heavy jute fibres, has its use in the name. CBC made of jute comes in two types. Primary CBC provides a tufting surface, while secondary CBC is bonded onto the primary backing for an overlay. Jute packaging is used as an eco-friendly substitute.
Diversified jute products are becoming more and more valuable to the consumer today. Among these are espadrilles, floor coverings, home textiles, high performance technical textiles, Geotextiles, composites, and more.
Jute floor coverings consist of woven and tufted and piled carpets. The traditional Satranji mat is becoming very popular in home décor. Jute non-wovens and composites can be used for underlay, linoleum substrate, and more.
Jute has many advantages as a home textile, either replacing cotton or blending with it. It is a strong, durable, color and light-fast fibre. Its UV protection, sound and heat insulation, low thermal conduction and anti-static properties make it a wise choice in home décor. Also, fabrics made of jute fibres are carbon-dioxide neutral and naturally decomposable. These properties are also why jute can be used in high performance technical textiles .
Jute is also used in the making of ghilie suits. Which are used as camoflauge and resemble grasses or brush.
Another diversified jute product is Geotextiles, which made this agricultural commodity more popular in the agricultural sector. It is a lightly woven fabric made from natural fibres that is used for soil erosion control, seed protection, weed control, and many other agricultural and landscaping uses. The Geotextiles can be used more than a year and the bio-degradable jute Geotextile left to rot on the ground keeps the ground cool and is able to make the land more fertile. Methods such as this could be used to transfer the fertility of the [Ganges Delta to the deserts of Sahara or Australia .
Moreover, jute can be grown in 4–6 months with a huge amount of cellulose being produced from the jute hurd (inner woody core or parenchyma of the jute stem) that can meet most of the wood needs of the world. Jute is the major crop among others that is able to protect deforestation by industrialisation.
Thus, jute is the most environment-friendly fibre starting from the seed to expired fibre, as the expired fibres can be recycled more than once.
Jute leaves are consumed in various parts of the world. It is a popular vegetable in West Africa. The Yoruba of Nigeria call it "ewedu" and the Songhay of Mali call it "fakohoy." It is made into a common mucilaginous (somewhat "slimy") soup or sauce in some West African cooking traditions, as well as in Egypt, where it is called mulukhiyya and is often considered the national dish. It is also a popular dish in the northern provinces of the Philippines, also known as saluyot. Jute leaves are also consumed among the Luyhia people of Western Kenya, where it is commonly known as 'mrenda' or 'murere'. It is eaten with 'ugali', which is also a staple for most communities in Kenya. The leaves are rich in betacarotene, iron, calcium, and Vitamin C. The plant has an antioxidant activity with a significant α-tocopherol equivalent Vitamin E.
Diversified byproducts which can be cultivated from jute include uses in cosmetics, medicine, paints, and other products.